In Seoul for the Asia Europe Foundation’s Informal Meeting on Human Rights , looking at human rights and ICTs, I made a few extra-curricular stops – it was hard not to, when just outside our hotel is an ongoing protest about labour rights. The protest site has obviously been occupied for some time – they are even growing tomato plants – and is just outside a major tourist attraction. The protest involves workers who were laid off from three major corporations, all still profitable. One of the companies, Ssang-Yong, over 2,600 people were fired, and because of their economic desperation 22 took the drastic step of committing suicide.
We then walked down the street – past both the Press Council and large media corporations, past the site of Korea’s ‘one-person’ protests designed to circumvent government legislation curbing peaceful assemblies – to visit the Peoples’ Solidarity for Participatory Democracy , an NGO working on freedom of expression, among (many!) other issues. The major issue here at the moment is concentration of media ownership in the hands of the political elite – which has led to the longest strike by media workers since the mass movement that overthrew the dictatorship here in 1987. While there are five different companies who have been on strike, three have now entered into negotiations – leaving two still striking. And the manner of the protests shows that politics can be fun! That night, a flashmob was being held. Each night, for ten nights, the protest is aiming to double the number of people in attendance – this was the night for 128 people to attend.
As people joined the protest, they were given a number until 128 were there. Then the games began. As part of the restructuring that has been taking place – with programmes and individuals critical of the government often cut – the producers of the affected programmes have taken on the task of taking it in turns to organise the protest. Today, it was a quiz show. The 128 ‘participants’ were asked a true-or-false question and had to choose sides. Each question was highly detailed, and related to the protest. If you were on the wrong side, you were out of the game – so questions were asked until there were only a handful of participants left. Each one was rewarded with a souvenir from the show.
The protest concluded with a dance, and a song, which are so much part of the protest movement that all Koreans know them. The crowd then dispersed quietly and went home.